Realizing SDGs: Efforts to Overcome Ecological and Environmental Barriers

Sustainable development is a global momentum to realize human welfare using a triple bottom line approach that includes economic development, environmental improvement and preservation, and social inclusion (Sachs, 2012). Unfortunately, sustainable development practice is still hampered by the lack of consensus in strengthening cross-sectoral synergies and attention to environmental issues that are still sidelined. Ecological and environmental issues are the main obstacles that will continue to shackle the realization of sustainable development, regardless of the extent to which environmental sustainability targets can be set. The SDGs will only be achieved if the meaning of ecological sustainability is limited to the commitment to real action that can represent environmental concerns. In addition, synergy in realizing sustainable development is hampered by the transformation of policies relevant to environmental issues that are not carried out using a climate approach, coupled with the emergence of the practice of “ecological colonization,” which maps the interests of the Global North and Global South. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen the commitment of international actors accompanied by concrete actions in mainstreaming environmental interests, strengthening development transformation with climate-based considerations, and strengthening the collaboration of developed and developing countries to minimize the environmental impact of ongoing development.

Strengthening the commitment and concrete actions of various international actors to realize environmental conservation is a major responsibility if sustainable development is to be fully realized. This is based on the fact that the development carried out by humans today depends on the environment. It cannot be denied that humans always need nature or the environment, so various development practices must consider ecological conditions so as not to cause losses in the long run. The country’s commitment to the synergy between climate action and sustainable development is increasingly significant. Unfortunately, this commitment has not been accompanied by strengthening climate action relevant to current environmental problems. Actions taken by states in realizing sustainable development tend to only strengthen synergies without considering trade-offs that can undermine effective policy implementation (Dzebo et al., 2018). This means that environmental considerations are often sacrificed to fulfill development. If the actions taken in sustainable development continue to be carried out like that, the triple bottom line approach cannot be realized because environmental aspects are often marginalized.

In realizing sustainable development, at least two main things include inclusive development and environmental sustainability to strengthen the resulting policies. The meaning can be recognized by opening space for all parties to actively participate in an inclusive and environmentally friendly development process (Silva, 2021). Suppose it is related to the SDG principle that every person and country is responsible for realizing universal, safe, just, and sustainable development. In that case, there is no exception to support the SDGs’ fulfillment actively. Regardless, the issue of environmental sustainability and environmental injustice that illustrates the segregation of environmental access and risks among broad social groups needs to be more focused (Filho et al., 2019). The aim is none other than to develop collective action of global actors who are more sensitive to the problem of environmental degradation. Thus, environmental concerns will be strengthened and become a momentum that can provide great significance in realizing sustainable development that is fully ecologically responsible.

At the domestic level of the country, to maximize commitment and concrete actions that support environmental preservation in sustainable development, it is necessary to integrate global, national, and sub-national policies. The intended integration aims to maximize the desired results of the development process that implements environmental values through the climate spectrum (Dzebo et al., 2018). In other words, the policies produced by the state not only show a commitment that the development carried out is minimal risk to the environment but has considered the extent of the impacts that can occur and can overcome these impacts significantly. This means that in the development process, the value of the environment should not be a marginalized aspect but rather the main aspect directly related to the development and determines whether a development will be effective.

In addition to strengthening the commitment and concrete actions of various actors to answer the obstacles in the sustainable development process, it is necessary to strengthen the transformation of climate-based development. The consideration is based on the current development conditions that are on two spectrums. First, a development that runs quickly tends to harm the environment. Second, a development with minimal environmental impact needs to be faster in its fulfillment. Therefore, the main key that can be carried out to support SDGs that are committed to the environment is through climate-based development transformation. One of the important transformations to be carried out is the development of the eco-environment, which is an important aspect of supporting human survival  (Wei et al., 2022). Through the transformation of development based on the eco-environment, it is expected that development can go hand in hand with environmental sustainability so that it is no longer the main cause of degradation.

Eco-environment refers to the combination of people, resources, and various natural factors, including climate, water, soil, and vegetation, that play an important role in human development. In the view of eco-environment, economic and population growth leads to global warming and environmental degradation, which are the main challenges in achieving eco-development. Therefore, the priority is to emphasize the importance of environmental protection in development policies (Wei et al., 2022). The intended development transformation through the eco-environment is the appropriate use of biological resources without overexploiting them. Eco-environment also emphasizes the use of other environmentally friendly alternatives in supporting development. For example, the transformation to the use of renewable energy. Given that economic growth is also one of the three main approaches to be realized through the SDGs, it is inevitable that economic growth often has environmental implications. Therefore, through climate-based transformation, economic growth can be encouraged by shifting to renewable energy sources so that industrial and economic growth can continue to develop without climate implications (Ahmed et al., 2022).

In addition to the eco-environment approach, climate-based sustainable development transformation can be realized through several relevant practices. For example, the implementation of smart cities, whose mechanisms are carried out to improve industrial structures and technological advances in reducing pollution and realizing greening or green space coverage (Su et al., 2023). By implementing an environment-based smart city, sustainable development goals may be closer to achieving. Furthermore, the concept of environment-based smart cities can also adopt internet integration to encourage an innovative and greener economy in today’s digital era. China is one of the countries developing such innovations to minimize environmental pollution through technology and green economic development (Ren et al., 2022). If this transformation continues to be developed, its significance in realizing the SDGs will become more apparent. It can directly maximize the fulfillment of the triple bottom line, which includes economic development, environmental improvement and preservation, and social inclusion through environmentally friendly digital transformation. In its development, it is also important to pay attention to the transformation of the water and food sector, given its direct implications on public health (Filho et al., 2019). The key lies in sustainable development and environmental justice that takes climate change mitigation into account.

In order to overcome obstacles in the SDGs caused by ecological and environmental problems, it is necessary to strengthen collaboration between developed and developing countries. We understand that the SDGs encourage developed countries to assist developing countries in meeting the specified targets jointly. Nevertheless, there often needs to be more alignment between developed and developing countries in interpreting the SDGs. Developed countries are generally more significant in fulfilling the three pillars of the SDGs while developing countries focus on the economic and social pillars (Swain & Yang-Wallentin, 2020). This is certainly not without reason; on the one hand, developed countries are economically established, so they are more likely to adopt policies related to the environment. On the other hand, developing countries still in the economic development stage will need help to adopt the same environmental policies as developed countries. This problem is one of the main obstacles to realizing the SDGs because, despite developed countries’ commitment to assisting developing countries, there will always be a gap for both parties in the conflict.

When looking at the material footprint of environmental utilization from 1970 to 2017, high-income countries representing 16% of the global population were responsible for 74% of the resource use that led to environmental degradation. This fact indicates the existence of “ecological colonization” that harms developing countries both ecologically and economically (Richards, 2023). To avoid further inequality and disagreement between North and South countries, implementing the SDGs must strengthen coherent collaboration. North-South cooperation must be carried out non-discriminately and fairly under the SDGs agenda so that all parties are not excluded from the development stage. To realize the strengthening of North-South collaboration, it is important to pay attention to the gaps that may arise so that the partnership can be more transparent and provide mutual support (Blicharska et al., 2021). If North-South countries can maximize their collaboration, the fulfillment of sustainable development goals will be more realized.

From the explanation above, ecological and environmental problems are the main obstacles that will continue to shackle the realization of sustainable development. For this reason, it is necessary to strengthen three aspects to realize effective and efficient sustainable development. First, strengthening international actors’ commitment and real action to realize environmental conservation. Second, through strengthening the transformation of ecology-based development. The intended transformation is very relevant to the eco-environment approach, which emphasizes the use of environmentally friendly alternatives in supporting development and through various other transformations whose main consideration is environmental preservation. Third, through strengthening North-South collaboration in realizing sustainable development, previously hampered by the presence of “ecological colonization.” By strengthening these three aspects, obstacles caused by ecology and the environment can be minimized so that realizing the three main pillars of the SDGs, which include economic development, environmental improvement and preservation, and social inclusion, will be maximally realized.

Munif Arif Ranti
Munif Arif Ranti
Graduate student of International Relations, Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia.